By Albert Samaha
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"The only problem is that I have to put myself on the line."
But Hamer is no dummy. He may work out at Gleason's, but he's also trying to work Gleason's.
The gym's owner, Bruce Silverglade, says he's seriously considering a business proposal the young boxer approached him with.
"I have people come to me with ideas all the time," he says. "He had a plan and good ambitions. I verified the information in his résumé. He gave a nice presentation."
Hamer wants to persuade Silverglade to re-establish a presence in Manhattan by opening a satellite gym in Harlem. And he's also talked to Silverglade about taking over the entire operation. "We've had discussions about buying the one in Brooklyn," Silverglade confirms. "He wants to open the one in Harlem, but he has ambitions to purchase the whole corporation."
"He's done quite well for himself. Tor is a very talented intellectual, a fine example for my athletes. He was captain-type material. You'd make him the athletic representative on a board of directors," Higgins says. "Because he's such a good guy, I was concerned he wasn't going to take it seriously. This kid was special when I saw him—even when he was green. And I'm not just talking about him as a boxer. Way back when Barack Obama was beginning his race for president, Tor and I would have great discussions about politics, the presidential campaign. . . . What's better for boxing?" Higgins asks. "There is no one saying anything bad about him."
Sure, Hamer's got charisma and quick feet. But if he was such a great amateur, why didn't he go to Beijing? The U.S. amateurs had a miserable Olympics and could have used a winner.
Higgins explains that Hamer has come on quickly in the past year. But when the U.S. Olympic team was put together a year earlier, Hamer didn't enter the tournaments he needed to in order to be chosen. "I think if you ask him, he'll tell you he was in school. We would have boxing tournaments, and when he wasn't fighting, he would be doing homework," Higgins says.
"Tor is very similar to Joe Frazier, but he fights a little quicker and he's better. He hits as hard," Higgins says. (Hamer has actually trained with Frazier in Philadelphia.) "This summer, at the U.S. Championship, in the first round of a semifinal match, Tor knocked out his opponent and knocked his teeth out. Three or four of them. We felt terrible. People were saying Tor was a little too small for the heavyweight, but this opponent was from the Army, and he was wearing a mouthpiece and headgear. I've seen thousands of fights and, sure, I've seen a tooth get punched out. I'm talking teeth! I'd never seen that."
Not surprisingly, Higgins is very optimistic about Hamer's future as a pro. "He needs to build up the right way. Don't fast-track him to where he is overmatched," he says. "I could see in three to four years, he'll be fighting for a world championship. He'll get there. He's not doing this to not be great at it.
"He's a great story for America."
It's October 22, a Wednesday night. The crowd inside B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square is milling around until the start of the night's event—an eight-fight card presented by DiBella Entertainment's Broadway Boxing series.
Previous events in the series took place in the spacious Hammerstein Ballroom, but the decrease in the demand for boxing means a decrease in venue size.
"Watch this kid, Tor Hamer," DiBella, the promoter, says as he works the room. "I think he's going to be good." Standing at six feet four inches, DiBella is wearing designer jeans, a graphic T-shirt, and a leather blazer. Diamond earrings and a gold chain complete the ensemble. He glad-hands a group of older white men in sweaters and button-down shirts, then bounces over to a contingent of Europeans in colored leather jackets, with their collars turned up and enough product in their hair to compete with an Exxon oil spill. They're here to support a Montenegran fighter who's been training in the Bronx. DiBella then says hello to the Brooklyn constituency (read: the handful of black boxing fans). In the audience at a boxing match, at least, we really all do get along.
Backstage, Hamer is being fussed over by his friend Christopher Johnson, who is beaming with pride. He's a slim white guy in a blazer and a "Team Tor" baseball cap. While Hamer talks to others, Johnson pats him on the back like a proud parent.
"I first met Tor when he was training in Philly with Joe Frazier. We became close friends. He's a normal Joe," Johnson says. "I came all the way from San Francisco for this. I would never have missed this. I'm flying back out in three hours."
It's Hamer's professional debut, and if the venue is modest, there's also the odd color scheme: Part of tonight's proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is why the ring is pink and the boxers are wearing pink boxing gloves.